Ninety-five Percent of Adolescents With Diagnosed Opioid Use Disorder Are Not Prescribed Recommended Treatment

Few adolescents diagnosed with opioid use disorder (OUD) are prescribed the recommended medications for OUD (MOUD). This study used data from the Ohio Medicaid program to examine adolescents’ (N=626,508; aged 12–18 years) receipt of MOUD (buprenorphine and/or naltrexone) within 3 months of an OUD diagnosis.

  • Overall, 5% of adolescents with an OUD diagnosis received MOUD; those aged 16–18 were more likely to receive a prescription for MOUD than adolescents aged 12–15 (6% versus 1%, respectively).
  • Most adolescents with OUD had a health care appointment within 3 months of the OUD diagnosis; 49% had a general medical appointment, 40% had an emergency department visit, and 28% had a behavioral health appointment.
  • Around 10% of adolescents with OUD received a prescription for an opioid pain medication within 3 months of their diagnosis.

Comments: This study confirms that very few adolescents diagnosed with OUD receive the standard-of-care treatment, and adds a new insight: the low levels of MOUD receipt are NOT due to lack of interaction with the medical system. The finding that youth with OUD were nearly twice as likely to receive an opioid pain medication as they were to be prescribed MOUD indicates that the healthcare system is not adequately prepared to manage substance use disorders, despite the availability of effective treatment.

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reference: Chavez LJ, Bonny AE, Bradley KA, et al. Medication treatment and healthcare use among adolescents with opioid use disorder in Ohio. J Adolesc Health. 2020;67(1):33–39.

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